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Structured Choices to Learn Chemistry

Mr Khemistry

Using Structured Choices to Learn Chemistry

I have been reading this book recently, by Dr Petunia Lee.

Image result for internal drive theory

The first strategy she mentioned is giving the child structured choices. This gives the impression that he or she is the one who made the decision, who chose to do whatever the action is. The trick here is to offer limited choices (decided by us of course) within the scope of what you want the child to achieve.

The example given by Dr Lee is letting the child have the choice of deciding what books he or she wants to read. Now behind that choice is a number of no-choice. The child HAS to read, the books are already selected, so there is no choice of genre. So once the child has decided on which book interests him/her, they are more likely to read it willingly. 

How do we use Structured Choices to Learn Chemistry? 

As parents and educators, we can use every opportunity we have to offer structured choices to the child/student. Additionally, we would need to respect the choices that they do make. This is to build trust and emotional capital that we can use later on i.e. exam period. 

A common way we prep the students in JC 2 is to give them some leeway during CCA competition periods. After which we will remind the students that since they chose to focus on their CCA in term 2, they would need to study extra hard in term 3 to catch up for Prelims.

Sometimes i would let the class decide when they wanted to take the quiz. It really doesn’t matter when they take it but it gives them autonomy and the impression of choice.


It is also important to slowly train the child/student to learn how to make choices, meaning we will have to guide them along. For example, we start by offering them very restricted choices. Then slowly increase the autonomy the child has in the choices. (Remember not to give them TOO many choices, it will lead to decision-paralysis.) Be sure to set some ground rules and check the child’s choice if they have not chosen wisely.

Patience is needed to slowly let the child build up his/her judgement in decision-making. We need to show support and encouragement if they have made a wise choice.

Caution is needed not to give false choices and then coerce the child to pick your choice.

There you have it, use Structured Choices to Learn Chemistry (or anything else)! Go to Strategy #2 Emotional Connection to Learn Chemistry!

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A trip back to Miri

Mr Khemistry
Me and Felix
Me and Mini-me

This picture was taken on Christmas day when Felix was down with fever. Incredibly proud of him for staying bubbly and cheerful despite the temperature. He is now at the age when he can interact meaningfully with us. Some of the things he says are really hilarious!

On a more serious note, taking care of a little human being who is totally dependent on you is a humbling experience. His needs and wants are many, more than our patience can accommodate. Thankful for family and friends who take turns to play with him.

Went back to the same restaurant we got married in Miri…

Wife and me

Wife and me

It’s not very clear in the picture, but behind us is the big screen on the little stage. Didn’t have time to retake as Felix was running wild in the restaurant. Time flies. It’s has been almost 3 years since we got married.

At the start of the year, let us reflect on the year that has passed and use our experiences to fashion a better 2019 ahead.

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VSEPR theory – main concept

Mr Khemistry

Understanding the underlying concept

This week as i was teaching chemical bonding to my student, i realised that she was struggling to learn VSEPR. 

I asked her why did she find it difficult and her reply was it was hard to remember all the basic shapes and bond angles. And we haven’t even got to the shapes with lone pairs!

I then proceeded to question her based on first principles. “What do you think VSEPR theory is based on?” “What is the main underlying concept how we come up with the basic shapes?” I shared a video with her which was rather useful in elucidating basic shapes which doesn’t yet involve lone pairs.

After watching the video, i asked her again what was the MAIN idea of VSEPR. 

It was to achieve minimum repulsion between electron pairs around the central atom.

From there, i extrapolated the theory to apply on novel context involving lone electrons, seven electron pairs etc. 

The point i wanted to make was, a lot of times we learn the WHAT but not the HOW or WHY. Students can definitely memorise the five basic shapes and the shapes involving lone pairs. On top of that, they can also memorise the bond angles for these shapes. But isn’t it better to understand why and how molecules arranged their electron pairs to minimize repulsion and arrived at these shapes?

An analogy would be if i told you to take the train from pasir ris to jurong, get off and take bus 30 opposite the mrt station for two stops to meet me. And the mrt service gets disrupted, you would be stranded. Why? Because you didn’t know WHERE you were going, you are just following instructions. But if you knew the name of the shopping mall where we’re meeting, you can probably just switch to a cab and still get to the destination.

So remember, ask yourself why and how, not just what is in your syllabus. You will be able to understand and retain the information much easier.

All the best!

#LearningChemistry #AskingGoodQuestions

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IP Chem tuition and Lifelong Learning

Mr Khemistry

Public Service Announcement – Parking App
(for carparks with no electronic gantry eliminates use of coupons)

Met with a copier company salesperson last month after my IP chem tuition. They proposed to takeover my existing contract and provide me with a new copier. 

So met their salesperson but their pricing wasn’t really competitive plus there was an additional lock-in period. As we walked to the carpark to our respective cars, i saw him taking out his phone to check on his app. I asked him what was he doing and he shared that there’s an app which can replace carpark coupons.

It can deduct the amount directly from the credit card or debit card. I was so glad to discover this app as i always had problems with buying carpark coupons (there are only a few places which sells these). Additionally it was hard to estimate how much time i would spend after a class answering questions. With this app, i could extend the coupon remotely and it even refunds me the prorated amount if i didn’t use up the whole 30 mins! It was pure genius 🙂 

Image result for parking sg app IP Chem tuition

Image from

To think that something like this had been around for at least a year (found out it went live in Oct 2017) and i didn’t know about it. Well, better late than never.

IP Chem tuition – Reflections

How do we use technology to improve teaching and learning in IP Chem tuition and JC Chem tuition? In our lives, there are often inefficiencies, take time to think about how we can improve. May not involve technology, most of the life’s “hacks” does not involve IT, just thinking out of the box. 

Do you have any life hacks that vastly improved your daily life? Share it in the comments! Would love to know other nifty ways to improve my life!

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Making abstract concepts concrete – IP Chemistry Tuition

Mr Khemistry

IP Chemistry Tuition

Making abstract chemistry concepts concrete is one of the most important teaching skills a teacher need to possess.

Among the three sciences, chemistry is arguably the hardest to comprehend. Case in point, the Avogadro’s constant (mole 6.023 x 10^23) is such a big number, that it’s hard for students to fully grasp the magnitude of it. Much of the reasoning in chemical bonding requires students to explain physical phenomena using electrostatic attractions between sub-atomic particles.

For IP chemistry, students are exposed to chemistry in modules since Secondary 1. At that age, it can be difficult for students to process such abstract information. Thus it is not surprising parents look for IP chemistry tuition to help their children catch up on the content.

Case Study

Image result for made to stick

Chip and Dan in their book “Made to Stick”, quoted a case study on how students learnt function in Mathematics. The teacher used the analogy of temperature being a function of how fast crickets chirp. She told the students to observe and count how fast the crickets chirp at various temperatures.

The students realised that the higher the temperature, the faster the crickets chirp. (At extremely high temperature however, the crickets stopped chirping altogether.) So she related how the temperature acts as a function of how fast crickets chirp.

This is an example of how a teacher was able to bridge the gap between an abstract concept (a function) to a sensory reality.  The more sensory hooks the teacher is able to construct for an abstract concept, the easier it will be for the students to grasp the concept.


Sensory experiences helps us to remember things better, think of how easy it is to remember the lyrics in your favorite song compared to the 16 digits on a credit card.

Remember, ground teaching in the concrete rather than abstraction and conceptual language.

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Chemistry in Daily life

Mr Khemistry

Chemistry in Daily life

chemistry in daily life

infographic from

Plastics is one of the most important inventions Chemistry has made in 19th century. It is so pervasive in our lives that we seldom stop to think just how much we depend on it. Have a look around your house, how many things are made of plastics? Try going to the grocery stores or buying any food without getting a bunch of plastic bags. It is nearly impossible. This morning, my wife and i went grocery shopping, we brought along two recycle bags and one plastic bag to carry our groceries. Initially everything went well and we were able to fit it all into the three bags. As usual, we got complacent and bought some snacks after our shopping to munch on later….then guess what? 

We got a bunch of plastic bags which the food vendor used to pack our food in! The realisation that all our efforts were for naught in the end was especially jarring. To be really environmentally friendly and abstain from the use of plastic bags in our modern lives is next to impossible! Every thing comes in plastic bags, food, groceries, etc. 

Recycle bags

plastic bags  






In the face of global warming and catastrophic climate disasters, we need to persevere in  our efforts to go green. This “Chemistry in Daily life” post hopes to stir up a desire in all of us to do what we can toward a better tomorrow for our children.

We must leave earth a better place for them, as it is, we are destroying this green planet with our thoughtless actions. Let’s all spur each other on to do good, recycle what we can, use what we need and eat just enough.

How have you been conscientious regarding your carbon foodprint? Can we all consume less and recycle more? Let’s do this together! 🙂

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Best JC Chemistry Teacher

Mr Khemistry

The best JC chemistry teacher

This is a continuation of a series of posts to remind myself of good teaching strategies that i can use to engage and hold students’ interest.

This second idea from the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath talks about the curiosity gap, a gap which happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge. When we want to know something but don’t, it creates an itch, a desire to know the answer. Like “Why do men have nipples?” (Did it create an itch which you satisfy by googling the answer?)

This really is the reason why we keep chasing a drama series for hundreds of hours, because we want to know what happens next. Movies, football leagues, even Pokemon Go uses this concept. We want to know what happens to the movie protagonist, which team will lift the EPL Cup, which Pokemon characters am i missing?

pokemon pic

The implication of this theory is that we need to open gaps before we can close them. Furthermore, we will need students to WANT to close the knowledge gap. One method is to post challenging conceptual questions and get students to vote on which is the right answer. Usually there will be more than one answer and the disagreements will cause students to want to find out if they are right.

I still remember one of my university Professor periodically giving us 20-30 conceptual MCQs (which makes up a percentage of our grades) whenever we finished a section. It wasn’t difficult to set or mark but it highlighted to me my knowledge gaps. I’m not sure if he was the most knowledgeable professor, but he certainly was the best chemistry teacher i’ve had in university.

To use knowledge gaps, students must first have some knowledge

Pokemon Go doesn’t hold any interest for me, for the simple reason that i don’t have any background knowledge of it. I don’t really care which team lifts the English Premier League Cup because i don’t follow or support any team. Hence it’s vitally important that teachers take the time and effort to build up certain knowledge or background context for the students. So that when we open the gap, they will want to close it. 

The best teachers builds the background context/knowledge and uses conceptual questions to get students to commit to their answers. Step by step, arousing curiosity, creating, opening, filling their knowledge gaps. Let the thirst for knowledge ignite their passion for learning.

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JC Chemistry Tutor – Keeping Teaching Simple

Mr Khemistry

JC Chemistry Tutor – Keeping Teaching Simple

As a teacher who teaches chemistry at advanced level, it isn’t easy to simplify core chemistry ideas and deliver it to students with a lasting impact.

With the advent of information technology, we are constantly seduced by the “bells and whistles”. Things which grabs students’ attention momentarily but doesn’t leave them a lesson they wouldn’t forget. As an educator, it is easy to teach content because we already know the content. However, to teach in a way that students grasp the core idea and remembers it long after the lesson takes a gargantuan amount of effort from a JC chemistry tutor these days.

I’ve recently read a book by Chip and Dan Heath titled “Made to Stick”, it contains a section which is addressed to teachers. I will share some of the lessons gleaned from the book in this post and a few more posts. 

“To make an idea simple, first find the core […]then anchor it in knowledge that your students already have.” – quote from the book “Made to Stick”.

I will try to implement this in my lessons next year, find the one core idea that i want every student to learn for the lesson. Then use their prior knowledge from secondary school to anchor this new idea.

A few challenges i can foresee:

  1. Advanced H2 syllabus specifically requires students to explain concepts using scientific terminology. This means they HAVE to use key words and phrases. 
  2. Numerous concepts to cover but i only see them once a week, limiting the lesson to one core idea will be challenging.
  3. Abstract chemistry concepts that does not extend from prior knowledge from secondary level.

Even though there are challenges, this is a goal i will strive towards in 2019. To make my lessons “stick”.

I will leave you with a short clip from 3 idiots, the movie.

JC Chemistry Tutor, Mr Khemistry


Graduating classes 2018

Mr Khemistry

Mr Khemistry – A level Chemistry tutor

This year, we have a lot more students graduating from Mr Khemistry’s H2 JC chemistry tuition classes.

JC H2 A level Chemistry class

Thursday class

A level JC H2 Chemistry tuition class

Saturday class

A level H2 JC chemistry tuition class

Sunday class








As more students come to us, hopefully the quality of teaching will become even better. We would like to wish all students who passed through our doors the very best in their A level exams and indeed in all their future endeavors. 

A levels is but one of life’s many challenges, many students overcome this challenge and there are also some that failed. Nonetheless, as long as we learn from it, this experience will never be wasted. Recently, i read in a book about how a teacher explained the use of algebra in real life to a student questioning the usefulness of the topic. She said that learning algebra is like going to the gym, we don’t pump iron because we need to use this skill of pumping iron in real life. Rather, we pump iron in gym to develop our muscles to use in other areas of our lives. Studying algebra is like training our mental muscles for use in other areas of our lives. 

So too, is studying chemical bonding or energetics in chemistry. It’s unlikely we will actually use these knowledge in real life but we can use the mental muscles we developed to help solve life’s challenges.

As the late Jim Rohn once said, “How you do something is how you do everything.” “Every discipline whether good or bad, affects all other areas of your life.” I would like to leave my graduating classes with this thought. How you approach this exam will likely be how you approach major challenges in life in the future. So give it all you’ve got, don’t give up easily, push through and come out victorious on the other side. All the best!

Your A level Chemistry Tutor,
Mr Khemistry 🙂




Exam Reduction

Mr Khemistry

Exam Reduction

In a recent article on exam reduction,

Ong Ye Kung

Ong Ye Kung

[…he (Mr Ong YK) also strongly urged tuition centres not to simulate “examination-like conditions” for students to make up for the lost examinations, noting that there are a few who have said they will do so. “Doing so would just be preying on the apprehension and anxieties of parents and students,” he said. “Instead, try to understand why these changes are important to better prepare our young for the future, and help explain this to parents.” “You are going against a very well-thought-out policy which I think has quite good support among students, teachers, and parents,” he told reporters later. “So please work with us.”] 

Source: CNA article

I think the rationale for tests is to assess students’ learning, not “making up for lost exams”. In fact, i think schools will also be continuing un-weighed tests to assess the learning objectives have been met. The key term here is “un-weighed”,  so that it does not add to the students’ stress. For tuition centres whose main objective is improvement of exam grades, it is unlikely to reduce test frequency. We do not speak for other centres, but at Mr Khemistry, we will neither increase nor decrease the number of tests/mock exams. Our main objective is really to let students see how much they understood the contents covered so far and what areas/concepts they might need further strengthening in. Since tuition centres’ tests does not count toward any promotion criteria in school, it will unlikely add a lot of stress to the students. 

An unintentional bottleneck?

In all learning, we need to have milestone/check-point to assess whether we have truly grasped what we have learned. The reason why there’s so many assessments is because we only start to internalize what we learned through practice. The copious amount of content they are supposed to master in the 1.5 years in college is the main reason why frequency of tests/exams is so high.  The main issue is not the rigour of H2 Chemistry (or any other H2 subjects) nor high exam frequency, it is the content quantity. Viewed at a macro level, it’s not difficult to see the bottleneck at JC level. 6 years for foundation at primary school, 4 years for ordinary level at secondary school, 2 years for Advanced level at Junior College, 3-6 years for specialization at University level. 

It’s not difficult to see why Junior College students are stressed out.

What do you think? Leave us a comment!

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